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Greece defies ECtHR decision over using ‘Turk’ 11 mars 2012

Posted by Acturca in EU / UE, South East Europe / Europe du Sud-Est, Turkey / Turquie.
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Today’s Zaman (Turkey) 11 March 2012, p. 5

Hasan Haci Ata, Athens

The Supreme Court of Greece (Areios Pagos) dismissed the application for the reopening of the İskeçe (Xanthi) Turkish Union (İTB), which was closed in 1986, because the name contains the word “Turk.”

The recent decision disappointed the Turkish-Muslim minority in Western Thrace for the second time, following a similar decision made in 2005 which sparked fury and anger among representatives of the community and their lawyers.

The Supreme Court of Greece last week ruled against an application to reopen the İskeçe Turkish Association in Western Thrace, despite a ruling by the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR) on March 27, 2008, that the İTB and the Rodop Turkish Women’s Culture Assocation, which the Supreme Court also refused to recognize due to the usage of the word ‘Turk’ in its name. The details of the ruling are expected to be released next week. In response to a parliamentary question posed last year, the Interior Ministry argued that the ECtHR decision was not binding. It is expected that the Supreme Court will rely on the same justification when the reasoning behind the decision is revealed. In the meantime, following the 2008 ECtHR decision, the Greek foreign minister said, “Unlike Ankara, Athens respects EU legislation and will honor the decision.”

The efforts of the Western Thracian minority to exercise their right to assembly and to use the word Turk in the names of their associations and organizations — as well as the counter-attempts by the Greek state to abort these efforts — deserve closer attention and examination. The association was first created as the Xanthi Young Turks Union on April 14, 1927; the Union was renamed the Iskeçe Turkish Association in 1936. In 1983, first its Turkish name plates were removed and in 1986 the İskeçe Court of First Instance dissolved the association on the grounds that the use of the word Turk in its name violated association bylaws and disturbed public order.

Following an appeal to the Supreme Court of Greece, the closure of the Iskeçe Turkish Association by the court received an angry response from legal experts. They hold that the decision is more focused on legal procedures than substance, adding that the interpretation of the relevant legal procedures is vague, narrow, restrictive and far from convincing. The ECtHR decision was ignored and the demands of the plaintiffs were left unmet. Experts further argue that it is in contradiction with EU norms and the international standards of human rights.

İskeçe deputy Çetin Mandacı, who also served as the chair of the İTB many years ago, told Sunday’s Zaman: “The political and judicial systems are flawed. I see the decision as shameful and a sabotage of human rights. The mindset that took the country to the brink of economic collapse is the same as the mentality that issued the decision. Greece needs reforms to address the problems in the judiciary, along with reforms in the field of economics. Sadly, politicians do not seem to be prepared to learn lessons. This decision also shows that the European institutions are flawed. The decision goes against European legislation and human rights. It will not be easy, but I hope the state will drop its policy of denial in the years to come.”

Gümülcine (Komotini) PASOK (Panhellenic Socialist Movement) Deputy Ahmet Hacıosman, speaking about the decision, said to Sunday’s Zaman, “It is sad and shameful for the court not to reinstitute the name of the association that it had used previously for many years.” Noting that the decision disappointed the Turkish minority in the country, Hacıosman added: “There is an ongoing struggle [for minority rights]. Nobody can take away the community’s identity with this decision.”

Ahmet Kara, chair of the İTB, told Sunday’s Zaman: “The decision is a big disappointment. We did not expect it. We will make a statement after seeing the detailed decision in the days to come. We will choose what to do after that. We may take the case to the ECtHR again.”

Zaman columnist Herkül Millas, who lives in Athens, also criticized the decision. Noting that Greece will face severe international criticism, in speaking to Sunday’s Zaman, Millas said: “Athens will face pressure because of this decision. It will have to defend itself on every platform. For its own best interests, Greece should be responsive to the demands of its own people.”

Ali Hüseyinoğlu, who is pursuing a Ph.D. in the field of international relations at Sussex University, notes that the campaign to deny Turkish identity launched after the arrival of the junta in 1968 has been turned into an argument that there are three minorities in Western Thrace — Turks, Roma and Pomaks. Noting that Greece contradicts itself because it allows the Roma and Pomak minorities to represent themselves, Hüseyinoğlu underlines that the insistence to deny the right of people who identify themselves as Turks to do the same shows that Greece is acting hypocritically. Hüseyinoğlu said: “The failure of the Greek government to fulfill the demands of the ECtHR breaches the steps taken to protect minority rights in different international institutions, including the European Union, OSCE [Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe] and the UN. In addition, this stance undermines the confidence of the West Thracian Turks in these and other similar institutions.”

Nikos Alivizatos, a prominent expert on constitutional law and a professor of law at the University of Athens said he would make a thorough statement after seeing the details of the decision. Alivizatos, who strongly criticized the Supreme Court of Greece after the ECtHR justified the appeal of the Turkish associations in 2008, said at the time: “The ECtHR unanimously ruled that the minority in Thrace is not only Muslim but also Turkish. This should not surprise those who are familiar with constitutional law. The decision by the Supreme Court of Greece, which dismissed the application of the İTB in 2005 to reopen, is sad. The honor in this case belongs to the Greek judge at the ECtHR, whose ruling justified the appeal by the Turkish associations.”

Grigoris Delavekuras, a spokesperson from the Greek Foreign Ministry, declined to comment on the decision of the Supreme Court of Greece when contacted by Sunday’s Zaman on Wednesday.

Despite the ECtHR decision, little change has been seen on the ground. The Greek foreign minister had previously noted that Greece had taken the 2008 ECtHR decision in favor of the association seriously and is prepared to act on it. Commenting on this contradiction, Delavekuras said: “Foreign Minister Kumuçakos’ statements are still valid. They reflect Greece’s position [on the case].”

In response to a question over why İTB was forced to close while other assocations in Western Thrace are able to include the words Roma and Pomak in their names, Delavekuras said he cannot comment on a judicial decision as the spokesperson for the foreign ministry.

The primary reason for the failure of the Greek state to honor the rights of some ethnic groups, including the Turkish minority in Western Thrace and the Macedonians, is the perception of a threat. In addition, since the 1990s, the Athens administration has been pursuing a timid policy vis-à-vis its neighbors, based on fear and suspicion. To this end, the nationalist and pro-status quo circles and the media that shaped foreign policy still see the Turkish minority in Western Thrace as Turkey’s Trojan horse. The associations bearing the word Turk in their names have been victimized by a policy of paranoia, despite the fact that they have never espoused separatism or engaged in any disruptive activities, and have always remained good citizens. The administration is incapable of offering solutions to the people of the country, as was seen in the recent case of opening a new mosque in Athens.

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